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I’m very pleased to introduce Ronald Huereca. This is his first guest appearance on Inspiration Bit. Ronald comes from a strong technical background, including electronics and business. He is a remarkable Web Developer and an amazing WordPress plugin author.


“I have an idea…”

That phrase is usually how good or bad ideas are formed. In my case, I had an idea to write a series for Devlounge that discussed how to write a WordPress
plugin
. The journey was long and tedious. I wish to share some of the things I learned while writing a series for a blog.

1. Know Your Target Audience

Devlounge has a technical audience with some interested in programming, and some in design. A lot of the audience had WordPress, so I assumed that a plugin series would be beneficial to the Devlounge audience.

Unfortunately the series – in my opinion – wasn’t well received. AJ (the Devlounge admin) told me that stats were up for the month and the series received a lot of trackbacks, but the comments were pretty much nil. I admit that the series took a lot of time to swallow and requires some “homework.”

The extra brain-crunching could have been one of the reasons there weren’t too many questions. Either that, or I did such a good job covering the material (wishful thinking?) that everyone was left speechless.

2. Start With an Outline

Before I began my series, I didn’t know how long or how many posts my series would consist of. I knew I would have an introduction. But I didn’t really know what topics I wanted to cover.

My approach was to weigh in some criteria and make some assumptions:

  1. What was my audience’s technical level?
  2. How familiar were they with WordPress?
  3. How do I convince a person a plugin is worthwhile?
  4. What teaching style should I use?

I eventually assumed my audience had a moderate technical level with some knowledge of WordPress. I decided to write a series that built on each other (rather than each post stand alone). So I envisioned a plugin that was built from scratch and then progressively got more complex.

I ended up with an outline that was twelve posts long. I thought to myself, wow, that is a lot of posts. I e-mailed AJ and said, “I’m going to post a post once ever two weeks.” Luckily, Bes (from the Reasoner) was able to talk some sense into me.

3. Pre-write Your Posts

A few days after I decided on my bi-weekly schedule, I came across an article on ProBlogger that discussed writing
a series in one sitting
. All the advice ran counter to my plans. Darren’s advice was to:

  1. Keep the series short.
  2. Don’t overdo it (don’t have too many series).

I was planning on taking it easy and writing one post every two weeks. I could have managed that. However, Darren was saying, “Keep it short.” Bes also agreed. He said six months is waaaaay to long to have a series. What to do then? Write the series all at once? All twelve posts?

Over a long three-day weekend, I did exactly that. I essentially wrote a working plugin (and 12 posts) in one weekend. I wrote for hours and hours, took breaks, and wrote for hours and hours again. I slept, woke up, and wrote again. I was tired. I was drained. But at the end of the weekend, I was done. I hope to never experience another writing weekend like it, but it was worth it to have completed the series all at once.

Here are the benefits I realized from pre-writing the series:

  1. Same voice and writing style. All the posts use the same voice and formed one cohesive train of thought.
  2. Inter-referencing is easier. Since all my posts were building on each other, I referenced the other posts like crazy. There were times I had 4 – 5 posts open.
  3. My temptation to procrastinate was removed. When I was writing the series, I had probably twenty or so windows open at once looking up various WordPress references. There was a long set up time, and if I would have taken two weeks in-between posts, it would have taken a miracle to get me up and running again.
  4. Once the series was written, it was written. I continued to edit the posts as they were published, but overall the hard part was over.
  5. You know what you’re going to write about up front. I have to admit I wrote the introduction first. But if I would have posted it, I would have been making a big mistake. I’m glad I waited until all the posts were finished and then went back to edit the introduction. I knew what I was going to talk about, and I knew how long the series would be to establish a posting schedule.

4. Establish a Schedule

The next decision I had to make was to establish a posting schedule. Since the posts were pre-written, I decided on a post every two days. The reason I chose two days was because of the technical nature of the series. I wanted to give my audience a chance to digest the material.

Also, since I was writing for a multi-author blog, I wanted to allow some empty space so other authors could fill in the blanks.

5. Identify the Series

When writing the series, I chose to start off every post with the same image and a brief blurb saying, “This post is part of the … series.” At least a reader would know upon looking at the post that this post is:

  1. is part of a series, and,
  2. talks about a particular subject.

If I had it to do all over again (I suppose I can go back and edit my series posts), I would say that “This series is part x of the … series” so that people could know right off the bat what series they happened to come in on.

6. Have Other Content Besides the Series

One mistake that was made at Devlounge is not having any other content the month my series ran. Since I established a schedule of every two days, my series ran a total of 24 days. It was a long series, but I also wanted to give my audience a chance to digest the material as mentioned earlier.

Unfortunately, I felt I was left hanging out to dry in the content arena. None of the other Devlounge authors filled in the gaps with other articles. This, in my opinion, did a disservice to the Devlounge readers because (let’s be honest here) not everybody cares about WordPress and WordPress plugins. So if you’re going to have a long series (or a series that isn’t posted once a day), have other content to fill in the gaps.

7. Have the Right Tools for the Series

For my plugin series, I needed a series of technical tools such as Dreamweaver, XAMPP, and some others so that I could write the series locally. One other plugin that proved crucial was the In Series WordPress plugin.

Although the In Series plugin isn’t all that user friendly, it saved me from having to manually enter at least 144+ links to my serie’s posts. The plugin created a table of contents for each post in the series, and also gave links to the previous and next posts (if applicable).

8. Interlink the Posts

It is crucial to interlink posts in the series. For my series, it was more than crucial; the series depended upon interlinking since the posts built on each other. There are several ways you can interlink your posts:

  1. Have a unified image identifying the series.
  2. Have a dedicated series page.
  3. Have a table of contents on each post.
  4. Link to the previous or next post (if applicable).
  5. Reference the other posts in the series.

9. Have a Good Introduction

I think I edited my introduction at least a dozen times. I would recommend writing your introduction last simply because you don’t really know how the series will end up until it’s finally finished.

Some of the things I recommend are:

  1. Establish authority. You can’t write a “How to Write a WordPress Plugin” series unless you have actually written several yourself. That was one of the first things I talked about.
  2. Identify the target audience. I told the audience up-front who the series was for and what technical knowledge the series would require.
  3. Identify the resources needed. Since my series was technical, I told my audience what tools I used and recommended a few to assist in following the series.
  4. Lay out your expectations and assumptions. I told the audience what my assumptions were, and what I expected of them.
  5. Establish your schedule. If you were brave and wrote all the posts in one sitting, you know how many posts you have and what schedule you are happy with. Tell your audience so that they will know what to expect. If you’re gutsy, tell the exact dates when each post will be published so that the audience can know that it is worth time and effort to invest in the series.

10. Keep the Series Short

I have to be frank here: it was impossible in my opinion to write a series shorter than the one I churned out for writing a plugin. There was simply too much information involved. But in hindsight, I wish I would have published my series in perhaps six days (two posts a day). I would have had the series over with in a week.

However, I found myself editing my posts even into that second week (before some of them went live). I’m glad I chose my extended schedule, so I would suggest finding the posting schedule you are happy with.

A month for a series is a little long, but it was way better than what I had originally planned.

11. Be Open to Improvisation

As the series progressed and posts started to be published, I went to some of the sites to read the trackbacks and/or comments. Some of the questions people had weren’t addressed, so I went back and edited some of the posts to include the answers.

Whether pre-writing or writing the series post by post, it is important to remain flexible.

One thing I do warn against is killing a series. I don’t care if the audience reacts with crickets, finish the series no matter how painful. Your credibility is on the line here and your next series might end up even worse.

12. Market Your Series

Last, but not least, market your series. Use social networking. AJ was kind enough to get the series featured on WLTC. I did my best to stumble all the posts.

AJ said the traffic and links started pouring in a few weeks into the series, but I don’t have access to the stats figures. I’m curious how well the series did, but it at least gave Devlounge a month of posts for what was probably going to be a dull and uneventful month.

Be Patient

Here’s a bonus piece for you. Be patient. Just because the comments and stats are low doesn’t mean the series is a failure. The trackbacks for my series didn’t start coming in until about the sixth in the series. The reason? People are skeptical. There are blog series all the time, and I bet that most of them aren’t even finished. So once you’ve taken the time to invest in your audience, your audience will start to invest in you.

Furthermore, the long-term traffic is from search engines anyway. If you’ve used all the right keywords in your posts, your series will surely pop up when searching for relevant keywords on Google.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading my guest article on writing a series. Writing a series for me definitely was a journey. Three days of writing turned into a month of anticipation and opportunity. If you have ever written a series before, what do you think of my points? If you have never written a series before, do you have any questions or concerns? Please weigh in.

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8 Insightful Bits in response to “Twelve Puzzle Pieces Of Writing A Series”

  1. I definitely agree with the need to write a series all in one go. I wrote a three post series, an introduction to building a site using web standards, and I didn’t write it all in one go.

    By the end of the series it had become a bit of a chore and I was tempted to start cutting corners just to get it done. I knew I had to finish it, as there is nothing worse than half a series, but it was’t easy. The first post, in contrast, was very quick and easy as I was still excited about writing it.

  2. Andrew,

    It was a pain to write them all at once, but it was worth it in hindsight. Good luck on any series you write in the future.

  3. Great post Ron. One of my pet peeves is to get interested in a series on some blog somewhere and the writer doesn’t have all of the parts written yet so you are left waiting and wondering when the next part is coming.

  4. Vivien

    that’s a very helpful article, Ronald. Thank you! Next time I decide to write series for my blog, I will definitely follow your tips.

    Regarding your series on DL – I think that they were really great and easy to follow. I personally didn’t comment much on them, because I didn’t have time to actually do all those exercises and didn’t want to comment just for the sake of commenting. Perhaps others had the same problem – simply a lack of time, not interest in the series.

    The only thing I would recommend on adding to the long series like this, is to collect them all in a PDF file, and link to it at the end of the last post of the series. This way, people can print it out and follow them like a book when they have time. At least, I personally like this option to have it all in one PDF.

  5. Aha… good point Vivien. I’ll have to remember that. PDF’s are also great for storing in offline formats for future reference.

  6. Vivien,
    That’s interesting as far as PDF goes. Kinda like an e-book or something.

    Joey,
    Yes, unfinished series are a pain. Unfortunately I am guilty. :)

  7. Wow! That was a great post, Ronald.

    I’ve never written a series of posts, but surely I’ll take your tips into consideration when I write one. I fail in the introduction part when I write posts actually, I will improve on it.Thanks, Ronald :)

    And Vivien, that PDF idea is really cool. I have a liking towards PDFs :D

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach programming, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on