>How To Promote Your Blog, Make It Popular, And Attract Readers

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I have only been blogging for 19 months and before that I knew nothing whatsoever about blogging. So I’ve been really reluctant to write this post. I have finally decided to write it because I received so many requests from my readers to share the “secrets” of this blog’s popularity that I couldn’t resist any longer.
I’m sure there are many things that more experienced bloggers know about this. Also, I don’t have any time to follow the regular advice dispensed to beginner bloggers to promote their blogs on Technorati, blog carnivals, webrings, etc. As it is, I spend from 30 to 60 minutes every day answering blog-related mail and another 60 to 90 minutes moderating comments. And then there is also answering comments and actually writing the posts. There are days when I spend up to 8 hours on blog-related activities. And that’s on top of my full-time job. So scouring blog promotion sites is really out of the question for me. The advice I can give mostly has to do with what you can do within the blog itself to make it easier for readers to find it and keep coming back once they do. Once again, I don’t pretend to be any kind of authority on this. This is what works for me. If you have any suggestions of your own, do leave them in the comment section.
1. Mind the titles of your posts. Many people go out of their way to come up with fun, snappy titles for their blog posts. I’m sure that this strategy makes their regular readers very happy, but it also makes it very hard for new readers to find the blog. The best thing for the post title is to be as descriptive as possible of what the post contains. Think about the search phrase that people who might be interested in this post will enter into their search engine and design the post title accordingly. You will end up with long, boring titles, but also a bunch of new readers every day.
2. The length of the posts matters. In my experience, posts should be neither too long nor too short. If a reader followed a link to your blog and found a post that is just 3 or 4 lines long, it is possible that they will feel disappointed and won’t come back. At the same time, excessively long posts bore people. Visitors might not even begin reading the post if they see it is too long. I suggest breaking up a longer post into 2 or 3 parts.
3. Guest posting might be counter-productive. Several bloggers shared with me something that confirmed my own experience: more often than not, inviting guest bloggers to post on your blog decreases readership. If you do it more often than once or twice a year, the readership might decrease dramatically. Even if your guest blogger is very talented and writes a lot better than you do, people don’t want to read their posts on your blog. (That is, unless your guest blogger is some kind of a huge celebrity, but how often does that happen?) If readers come to your blog, they come to read your posts and they feel disappointed if you offer them somebody else’s writing instead. As your blog becomes more popular, you will start getting offers to guest post more and more often (I receive at least one a day.) It might feel like accepting these offers will give you more posts, which will end up in bringing in more readers. In reality, it works the opposite way.
4. Make the blog easy to understand for new readers. As in any relationship, you will end up developing a language of your own with your long-standing readers. Some bloggers tend to forget that this language is incomprehensible to new readers. Sometimes, you read a post and have a feeling that there is a lot of interesting history behind it, which is not comprehensible to readers who haven’t been to the blog before. Before you publish the post, read it as if you were a first-time visitor. And then change it in a way that will make the post easy to understand to anyone who has never been to the blog before.
5. Don’t limit yourself in the choice of topics. I know this advice is contrary to what many blog promotion sites suggest: just choose a topic and stick to it. There is an important difference between blogs that are trying to sell something and blogs that aren’t. My blog isn’t selling anything. Of course, it’s nice when people go to Amazon through this blog and buy what they need, but it was never the point of the blog. Nowadays, I receive offers to place paid advertisement on my blog about every other day and, for now, I’m resisting these offers. As a result, I can write about absolutely anything I want, and the blog has a chance to attract different kinds of people with a variety of interests.
6. Write often. I know that you must have heard this a hundred times before, but it’s a truth that bears repeating. I know that I feel quite annoyed when my favorite bloggers
7. A blog is not the same as a Facebook page. Posting tons of photos of your friends and of every event you attended is only of interest to the people you know. If you have no desire to attract readers who’ve never met you, go ahead and do it. However, if you want to increase your readership beyond the circle of your immediate acquaintanceship, I suggest you move all that personal stuff to Facebook. As a reader of your blog, I have no interest in knowing what your friend’s friend looks like when she is drunk and I don’t find looking at 15 pictures of your kitten throwing up on the carpet all that fascinating.
8. Follow the buzz. At any given time, there is a subject or two that’s on everybody’s mind. Identifying such a topic and writing about it while it’s still hot will bring an explosion of readership to the blog. For me, that has always been the most difficult strategy to follow because I never have the time to stay updated on what everybody is watching on YouTube or tweeting on Twitter. However, as your blog becomes more popular, you will discover that your readers will do this work for you. If you have received three requests within the hour to discuss a certain subject on the blog, it might be a good idea to look into it.
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>Happy Birthday, Catherine!

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Happy Birthday to you, my lovely friend! May this new year in your life bring you all the happiness, success, and adventure that you deserve.

>Selina Hastings’s The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Review, Part II

What I find especially interesting about Maugham – and what I wished this biography addressed a little more intelligently than it did – is how fast his fame faded. As Hastings points out, Maugham’s works have even been adapted to the screen more times than Conan Doyle’s. Still, today almost everybody knows Conan Doyle, while Maugham’s name is familiar to a very narrow circle of readers. I only know his work so well because in the Soviet Union where I was born censorship limited our familiarity with English-speaking authors of the XXth century to those writers who remained completely untouched by Modernism and continued writing in the outdated realist style. And herein, I believe, lies the main reason for Maugham’s loss of popularity.

Hastings recognizes that

it was not done in highbrow circles to take [Maugham’s] writing seriously.

Incapable of finding an intelligent explanation of why Maugham was not seen as an equal by the artistic giants of his era, Hastings provides an answer of her own: they were jealous of his affluence, his big villa and his expensive limousine. Once again, one wishes that Hastings had some minimal familiarity with the development of literature in English. Maugham knew that he was consistently considered “a second-rate writer”, and it’s obvious that this knowledge was deeply painful to him. It is a disservice to the writer not to explore this issue and, instead, concentrate on excruciatingly boring sex lives of his numerous acquaintances.

Hastings’s inadequacy at a serious analysis of Maugham’s legacy reduces her to filling page after page with painstakingly researched minutiae of the author’s daily existence. We find out the names of everybody who visited this extremely hospitable writer at his villa, what the guests ate and drank, where they went after lunch and before afternoon tea. Hastings provides us with names and brief biographies of pretty much everybody Maugham met in his long and active life. We are even regaled with the knowledge that one of the writer’s male lovers used to sit in the patio of Maugham’s villa in pink shorts at a certain point in time, while another lover walked around in very short white shorts out of which his thighs bulged ridiculously, and that Maugham once won $12 at a game of cards (which was far from the only one he played in his life). This wealth of mundane details can be of interest only to the most assiduous of fans. Since I am not one of them, I found those pages of the The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography incredibly tedious.

This biographer’s tendency to disregard what really matters in favor of utterly trivial details manifests itself especially strongly in the last third of the book. Hastings mentions a couple of times in passing Maugham’s “socialist beliefs” but fails to elaborate what they consisted of and how this intensely snobbish writer who spent his life in a relentless pursuit of aristocrats managed to remain any kind of a socialist. Instead of discussing Maugham’s politics, a feat for which this biographer is signally unsuited, Hastings tells us at length what cars the author bought before and after the war, that writer Ian Fleming enjoyed beating his wife with wet towels, and what a lover of Maugham’s lover’s lover (no, there is no typo here) wrote in a letter that had nothing whatsoever to do with Maugham.

The entire effort that Hastings made in writing this book can be summed up in the words of one of my favorite colleagues: “Incompetents abound.”

[The first part of the review is located here]

Selina Hastings’s The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Review, Part I

started my Thanksgiving break with a plan to relax completely and exorcise the accumulated exhaustion of a very difficult semester. In order to do that, I embarked on a project of reading Selina Hastings’s bulky biography of Somerset Maugham. In case you don’t know, W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) was one of the most successful and popular British authors in the period between the two great wars. Today, most people don’t know Somerset Maugham and he isn’t widely read at all. His novel Of Human Bondage is still quite popular. However, his short stories and plays that made Maugham so famous have fallen out of favor with the readers. There are several reasons for that. For one, Maugham was a strong believer in the colonial system of the British Empire. His colonialism jumps off the pages of his short stories and is quite disgusting. He was also a vicious misogynist and made a career out of selling his contempt towards women. Maugham pretty much missed the boat of Modernism and kept writing in a plodding realist style, which was quite unsuited to the realities of the XXth century.

Obviously, Maugham’s colinialism and male chauvinism disgust me profoundly. Still, I have to confess that I have a secret love for his short stories because they are so beautifully crafted. It is my contention that before Julio Cortazar’s time, nobody could write a short story better than Maugham. If you have no idea what I’m on about, just read Maugham’s short story “The Lotus Eater” (which is available in open access online here) and you’ll see what I mean. Sadly, Maugham proved incapable of inscribing himself into the XXth century either ideologically or stylistically. He wasted his considerable gifts on pushing the outdated message of colonial and masculine domination, which is why his erstwhile fame is well-nigh forgotten nowadays.
Unfortunately, Selina Hastings lacks the most basic understanding of how to analyze literature. She could have definitely benefitted from taking at least a couple of literature classes. Then, she would have known, for example, that it is wrong to confuse the writer with his characters. She has this annoying habit of saying: “This is what Maugham felt/thought/did” and trying to prove that with a quote from his novel Of Human Bondage about the feelings, thoughts and actions of the novel’s protagonist Philip Carey. As autobiographical as that novel might have been, Carey and Maugham are not the same person. Trying to psychoanalyze the author on the basis of what his characters say or do is the kind of a rookie mistake that a serious literary biographer should never commit. Whenever Hastings attempts to offer an analysis of one of Maugham’s works, she invariably slips into the language of a seventh-grader’s book report:

One of Maugham’s greatest strengths as a novelist is his ability to create three-dimensional characters, women as well as men, interacting with one another.

Imagine that. A novelist writes about men – and even women – who actually interact with one another. This surprising fact definitely needed addressing in the writer’s biography.

Given to hero-worshipping her subject, Hastings manages not to notice his vitriolic hatred of women. She goes as far as suggesting that the opposite is the case. For this biographer, Maugham was

a man who enjoyed the company of women, who in his fiction and his friendships was so understanding and compassionate toward them.

I wouldn’t be able to address Maugham’s friendships with women (although I do know – and Hastings offers ample proof for my opinion – that he treated his wife and daughter abominably), but as for his writing, it isn’t often that one encounters an author who has done quite as much as Maugham to create a gallery of horrible, nasty, disgusting, stupid, venal, brainless women. It is unsurprising that Hastings, who can construct a turn of phrase as atrocious as


doctors, diplomats, traders, missionaries, and their women

would be incapable of noticing Maugham’s misogyny. Hastings is so blindly uncritical of Maugham’s every word, position, and action that she quite sincerely suggests that one of the reasons why Maugham’s marriage was such a disaster was that


the traditional feminine occupations of knitting and needlework held no appeal for [his wife] whatsoever.

Of course, it is just as probable that the marriage suffered more because of the fact that the traditional husbandly occupation of having sex with his wife held no appeal whatsoever for Maugham, who was gay. Hastings, however, chooses to demonize Maugham’s long-suffering wife Syrie for not learning to knit, which, as Hastings seems to believe, would have distracted her from her husband’s numerous homosexual affairs and turned this marriage into an endless bliss.

[Find Part II of the review here.]

>Slavoj Zizek’s On Belief: A Review, Part I

>I have no idea how I managed to miss Žižek’s On Belief when it first came out. Now, however, I have finally had a chance to read this book by one of the greatest philosophers of out time (actually, the greatest, in my opinion) and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Of course, Žižek wouldn’t be true to himself if he didn’t frame this book as yet another failing effort to rescue at least some sad remnants of the Russian Revolution as a genuine transformative and hopeful event. In On Belief, he does this through a very desperate “Stalin – bad, Lenin – good” sort of argument. Of course, anybody who has even the most superficial knowledge of the history of the Russian Revolution realizes that such an argument is non-viable. No amount of quotes from Kant, Hegel and Lacan can dispel the historical reality of Stalin being one of the 4 people who were the closest to Lenin at every step of the way both before and after the revolution. No kind of philosophical casuistry can deny the fact that Stalin was the most faithful  and logical, albeit quite plodding, follower of Lenin. It would be great if Žižek would quit flogging the dead horse of the Russian Revolution and realize that the stench the dead horse’s corpse is producing only makes it fit for a speedy burial. Still, even a great philosopher has a right to a small weakness here and there.

Thankfully, Žižek doesn’t spend too much time on these feeble attempts to resuscitate Lenin for the future of humanity. When he is not addressing the traumatic (especially, for someone of his origins) legacy of the Soviet Union and speaks, instead, of the present and the future, Žižek is spectacular. In On Belief, Žižek virulently assaults the contemporary pieties of certain liberal-leaning intellectuals. Their interest in all kinds of New Age philosophies that are supposed to rescue them from the evils of consumerist society deserves the philosopher’s scorn:

The ultimate postmodern irony is thus the strange exchange between Europe and Asia: at the very moment when, at the level of the “economic infrastructure,” “European” technology and capitalism are triumphing world-wide, at the level of “ideological superstructure,” the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened in the European space itself by the onslaught of the New Age “Asiatic” thought, which, in its different guises, from the “Western Buddhism” (today’s counterpoint to Western Marxism, as opposed to the “Asiatic” Marxism–Leninism) to different “Taos,” is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. Therein resides the highest speculative identity of the opposites in today’s global civilization: although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of the capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement.

We have all met liberals of this ilk. They spend their lives chasing after a spirituality of a higher order that they have found in quasi-Buddhist practices. Sitting in their incense-smelling rooms, surrounded by paraphernalia they bought in a store that boasts of selling items brought directly from Tibet, they pontificate for hours against the evils of Eurocentrism, flaunt their boringly ideological vegetarianism, and celebrate the supposedly pure and miraculous spiritual, medical and sexual advances of the Easterners. Unsurprisingly, Žižek, who is opposed to any kind of hypocrisy, has something to say about that. The very talk of Eurocentrism is an act of orientalism:

Therein resides the ultimate paradox: the more Europeans try to penetrate the “true” Tibet, the more the very FORM of their endeavor undermines their goal. We should appreciate the full scope of this paradox, especially with regard to “Eurocentrism.” The Tibetans were extremely self-centered: “To them, Tibet was the center of the world, the heart of civilization.” What characterizes the European civilization is, on the contrary, precisely its ex-centered character – the notion that the ultimate pillar of Wisdom, the secret agalma, the spiritual treasure, the lost object–cause of desire, which we in the West long ago betrayed, could be recuperated out there, in the forbidden exotic place. Colonization was never simply the imposition of Western values, the assimilation of the Oriental and other Others to the European Sameness; it was always also the search for the lost spiritual innocence of OUR OWN civilization. This story begins at the very dawn of Western civilization, in Ancient Greece: for the Greeks, Egypt was just such a mythic place of the lost ancient wisdom.

One cannot escape Europeanness through a flight – either imaginary or physical – towards the East. Just the opposite, the more passionately you embrace Eastern practices, the more anchored you become in your colonizing European identity. This kind of a rebellion is not only devoid of any actual transgressive value, it actually reinforces the very practices from which it purports to liberate you. The same sad process of a formerly transgressive behavior becoming a pillar of a repressive establishment can be seen in the realm of student rebellion:

The “truth” of the student’s transgressive revolt against the Establishment is the emergence of a new establishment in which transgression is part of the game, solicited by the gadgets which organize our life as the permanent dealing with excesses.

The irony of the situation is that Žižek, whose every word is aimed at being a transgressive act, is especially loved by spoiled trust fund babies turned Ivy League graduate students who entertain themselves with Žižek’s writings as they are biding their time before taking control of the very establishment they like to imagine themselves as subverting.

In a similar way, the tolerant multi-culturalists who celebrate the Other and spend their lives in a navel-gazing privilege examination are exactly the same as fundamentalist Evangelicals in the US. We all know how much Žižek dislikes such fanatics of tolerance (and how grateful I am to the great philospher for shining a light of reason on them). I only wish that I ever find my way to formulating my objections to their peculiar brand of fanaticism as beautifully and precisely as Žižek does:

Moral majority fundamentalists and tolerant multi-culturalists are the two sides of the same coin, they both share the fascination with the Other. In moral majority, this fascination displays the envious hatred of the Other’s excessive jouissance, while the multiculturalist tolerance of the Other’s Otherness is also more twisted than it may appear – it is sustained by a secret desire for the Other to REMAIN “other,” not to become too much like us.

I have seen these attempts to enforce Otherness by our tolerant comrades more times than I care to remember on this very blog. They hate it when anybody tries to address Otherness with anything than quasi-respectful silence. These fanatics of meaningless tolerance are terrified that a discussion, an analysis, a rapprochement will reduce the Otherness of those they desperately need to be fully and completely Other. Without scratching the itchy scab of their imaginary privilege ona adaily basis, they will have no sense of their own identity, their own self-worth. This is why there is nothing more disrespectful of the Other than a refusal to discuss the limits of its Otherness. The position that “Every choice has an equal right to exist” is profoundly imbued with the capitalist philosophy, which is the reason Žižek hates it so much.

[The second part of the review is located here]

>Voting Is a Pleasure: A Funny Video from Catalonia

>My reader Canukistani has sent me a link to the following hilarious video that a political organization in Catalonia is using to encourage the young people to vote:

I wish I could have shown this video to my students before our recent elections. However, even if I’d known about the video then, I would have been too afraid of scandalizing our Midwestern students.

Thank you, Canukistani!

>A Cornell Professor Admonishes Rude Students

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This video of a Cornell professor telling off students who interrupt his lecture with exaggeratedly loud yawns has been making the rounds on the academic websites. Everybody dumps on the professor for raising his voice to the students but I think that he was right. We coddle the students so much nowadays that they keep behaving like overgrown, spoiled babies in the classroom and everywhere else. On the one hand, we are expected to prepare them for the real word, for being successful in the workplace. On the other hand, however, we have to placate, entertain and keep them constantly happy and engaged. Sometimes, it’s just frustrating to see how immature some students are. As much as this annoying childishness is their own fault, we are partly to blame too because of how rarely we do what the brave Professor Talbert has done.