Is a Blog Like a Query Letter?

by Jami Gold on December 21, 2010

in Writing Stuff

Acrobatic Alphabet

Today’s post is the unofficial “part three” of the results from my poll.  I hadn’t planned this post, but the comments from last time inspired a new thought.

In part one, we talked about how to help your blog readers find you.  And in part two, we discussed the things that turn people off from visiting blogs.  Down in the comments of part two, we got into another great conversation of even more pet peeves when it comes to websites.  (I love my blog readers!)  But one comment in particular got me thinking…

One of my Twitter friends, Anthony Reese, made this comment:

My biggest pet peeve (and one I just saw today) is when blogs have crazy type-faces. I hate when I have to decipher the font just to be able to read the content. There is nothing in the world wrong with Arial or Times New or Helvetica. It’s as if some people think an interesting font makes their blog more interesting. Not quite!

And he’s absolutely right.  It’s silly to use fonts that are difficult to read.  We shouldn’t make the letters on our blogs do crazy acrobatic tricks to get attention from readers.  Do we want people to focus on our scripty-scrolly-swirly-whirly letters and our don’t-these-drips-look-like-blood letters?  Or do we want people to focus on our writing, our words, and our point?

Can You Read This?

This is hard for me because I love fonts.  I love how different fonts evoke different feelings.  I have over one-hundred fonts on my computer, and that’s with me cutting myself off about a decade ago from acquiring more.  Just imagine how many I’d have if I’d continued collecting them.

But non-basic fonts take away from our writing.  They call attention to the letters instead of the words.  They distract from our point.

Does this sound like something we’ve heard before?  Yep.

Focus on the Writing—In Blogs, Query Letters, or Both?

Agents tell us all the time to stick to Times New Roman with our query letters.  Why?  Because they assume if you use some fancy typeface, scented envelopes, or pink-glittery paper, you must be trying to compensate for less than brilliant writing.  Ouch.

Could the same be true for our blogs?  Could fancy typefaces do even more damage than just making things hard to read?  Quite possibly.

We’ve already mentioned how too much bling with widgets and bells and whistles can make a blog look less professional.  And aren’t look-at-me typefaces a type of bling?  Basic fonts might be boring, but at least they don’t make people think you’re compensating for some deficiency with your writing.

But unlike query letters, our blog or website is our online home.  So how can we let our personality shine while still keeping things legible and professional?  I say, use a font that reflects your personality or brand—but only in the banner at the top of the page.  Keep your content clean and easy-to-read with a basic font.

Gee, now that I look at my website, I see I did this with my design.  *whew*  I’m glad my subconscious knew what the heck it was doing.  *pats muse on the head*  Good boy.

It’s no longer uncommon for an agent to check our blog when they’re potentially interested in our work.  While our website might not be the final push they need to want to work with us, an unprofessional-looking site could certainly convince them not to follow up on their interest.  Every element of our blog adds up to an impression.  What impression are you giving your visitors?

How professional do you keep your blog?  How do you balance that with your personality and brand?  Do you use bling?  How much and why?

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16 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

melissa December 21, 2010 at 9:01 am

You’re so right. I love fonts, too, but sometimes Times New Roman gets the job done just fine. After all, do you want people coming away from your blog saying – “oh she uses cool fonts”, or “wow, that post was really insightful”?

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Jami Gold December 21, 2010 at 9:08 am

Hi Melissa,

Exactly! What do you want to be known for? Thanks for the comment!

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Elaine December 21, 2010 at 10:15 am

Hi Jami

I loved the picture behind my Blog but when I logged on when away – on holiday I realised it could be a nightmare to see the words for the background. It had to go. Simple is better.

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Jami Gold December 21, 2010 at 10:23 am

Hi Elaine,

Yes, I’ve encountered the difference-between-computer-monitors effect as well. It can be such a balancing act to keep our personality and yet be professional-looking on our websites. Thanks for the comment!

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Kay Whitby December 21, 2010 at 11:18 am

I apologize in advance for my day job shining through. ;)

Not only that, but there are technical concerns to consider as well – fancy fonts are almost never properly scalable (adjustable in size). If someone on your website has poor eyesight (and with the rising number of seniors and people perpetually glued to screens, many do) and wants to zoom the font… well, bye bye what little legibility you had. That won’t do much for your reading base.

Additionally, the very format of screen media itself lends to plain fonts over fancy, and sans-serif over serif. There are a few exceptions, but the general rule is that sans-serif is for screen, serif is for print. (Wiki has a bit on why.) Minimalism is for lots of writing content, wacky graphics are for selling a visual product. Many-coloured layouts are for directing attention, few-coloured palettes are for focus.

If you absolutely, absolutely must have shiny fonts somewhere, the best place to put them is in a header image, or as the font for your article headers. And for crying out loud, more people need to test the zoom and readability. There are zillions of fonts out there, and all browsers have a zoom option in their View menu item, so in my opinion there is absolutely no excuse for not digging up one that looks good and reads well. (That third link alone lists 80 design fonts – all perfectly legible.)

Really, the bottom line is that if you want your blog to be pretty and usable, and not look like something from a ’98 Angelfire site… you need to either pick up a few digital design articles, or find someone who knows what they’re doing. I personally would recommend the former. There’s a lot more to web design than looking shiny – get into the stuff about CSS grids and you can learn a lot about arranging a ton of information on one page while keeping things neat and attention-grabbing. If that’s too over your head, experiment with different WordPress themes – there are more and more every day (many of which use the grid layout), and many of them have features like the ability to swap between header images, or assign entirely new preset colour schemes. I’ve been amazed by some of the theme designs I’ve seen on WP and around other blogs, and quite a few of them can be used to a writer’s advantage.

Oh, and above all, pay attention to sites and blogs with layouts that you love! Learn from them. (In fact, if you right click on the screen, there’s this little option called “View Page Source”… )

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Jami Gold December 21, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Hi Kay,

I salvaged your comment from the depths of Askimet because you have some great ideas here. Thanks for sharing! It’s always good to get professional input.

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Kay Whitby December 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Thanks, Jami! Hopefully some people can put them to good use. I openly admit that that list of 80 professional design fonts makes me swoon. ;)

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Suzi McGowen December 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I think your website comes across as very professional. How it looks, the status of your work (on submission, etc), even your blog/author photo.

One thing that I love about your website (and I keep meaning to write a blog post about this) is your tagline “Beach Reads with Bite”. That tagline tells me a lot of things about your style of writing in one tiny sentence.

I’ve been (on and off) trying to come up with a tagline of my own, but haven’t hit on anything yet. But I love yours!

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Jami Gold December 21, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Hi Suzi,

Aw, thank you so much! Yes, things like taglines are hard to come up with. I have no idea how I came up with that one, usually that’s not my forte. :)

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Susan Bischoff December 22, 2010 at 8:11 am

Nice post, Jami! I like your Can You Read This? box. Of course, I’m thinking: yeah, but I don’t wanna. I like serif fonts, as long as they’re clear. This is about all the comment my brain can manage this morning.

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Jami Gold December 22, 2010 at 8:15 am

Hi Susan,

Uh-oh, did I catch you before your coffee? :) Thanks for the comment! Yep, I’ve used several of those fonts in projects, but only in small doses. Otherwise, just like in that box, it’s too overwhelming to have to decipher it.

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India Drummond December 22, 2010 at 8:18 am

I try to keep my blog both professional AND friendly. I also try not to spend all my time talking about writing, but to take a moment for other things as well. I don’t want it to read like an industry blog. There are a lot of other people who are better at that than I am.

So, for me, tone is the most important thing. I want it to feel comfortable and welcoming. This also means not getting so personal that a stranger would be uncomfortable, but not being distant — I want every person to feel like a ‘friend’. It’s a tough balance, but worth it. I feel like my blog has attracted a crowd that I really enjoy interacting with. If I enjoy it, I figure they will too.

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Jami Gold December 22, 2010 at 8:25 am

Hi India,

Thanks for the comment! Too funny, I was just at your blog a few minutes ago, checking out your pet peeves in fiction writing article. Yes, it’s important to decide what kind of atmosphere you want to have in your blog – like a fancy dinner party, a business get-together, or a neighborhood barbecue. I like how you keep that balance.

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Murphy December 29, 2010 at 8:46 am

Hi Jami!

I’ll have to think about this. Again, during my down time over the last month – I was thinking about this too – particularly about my personality and brand. I realized a lot of my blog posts about The Boy – is me – picking up on the subtle or, oftentimes – not so subtle quirks – of character or human nature that I find funny or interesting. It’s these things I incorporate into my stories through specific characters and scenes. Holy flaming knickers of Batman! Don’t tell The Boy – he’ll be looking for a percentage or the royalties. YIKES!!!!!!

M. :D

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Jami Gold December 29, 2010 at 9:02 am

Hi Murphy,

Hmm, interesting thought. Yep, your work is often funny and your posts reflect your unique approach to finding the funny. So yes, your posts reinforce the humorous side of your brand. Maybe the question is whether or not you have other aspects you want to incorporate as well?

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